When I hit them up for blog post ideas, my friends say that I should write posts about how I decide what to do next. I'm not sure if it's because they think I make good decisions when faced with the question, or because my choices are so bizarre that they require explanation.
I don't feel like my decision-making process is so unusual that it necessitates a post, but sometimes it's the things most obvious to us that are most interesting to others. My friend Leo is a dad every day of his life, but I find each parenting decision he has to make fascinating.
What to do next is a question that has to be answered constantly, both in the short term and the long term. What big project should I tackle next? What should I work on this week? What should I make for breakfast?
To further complicate things, each question has nearly unlimited possible choices. Should I do another startup? Become an artist? Join the circus? These tend to be my favorite decisions to make, though-- those that combine imperfect information with possibility trees that can't fully be analyzed.
I like these sorts of decisions because they're best made by filtering through sets of principles, and working on one's principles provides a lot of leverage. One decision-- lots of cascading changes.
The first principle I use to decide what to do next is to think far forward in the future. What will I wish I had done if I choose something else? That one screen eliminates most options right off the bat. It also helps me to become more objective and less prone to impulse.
Of the narrowed down choices, I think about which I'm best equipped to do. For short term decisions that might be a question of how much time I have available, my current mood, and tools available to me. Long term decisions will depend more on my cultivated skills, circle of influence, and resources available.
Then I think about which one I'm most excited about. This seems trivial, but anything worth doing is going to require focus and perseverance, and having a genuine excitement about it makes that easier.
The first step gets rid of things I shouldn't do, the second identifies things I can do, and then the third selects for those things I want to do. When all three things are aligned, that's when I know I'm doing the right thing. Maybe not the best thing, but close enough.
The reason I don't search for the best thing to do is because I believe that it's far more important that I do something, hopefully something good. Time is the enemy of good decision-making, so I try to make the best quick decision I can make.
And maybe most important of all is having a system to make these sorts of decisions. That's how you achieve consistency and constant slow progress forward. Sure you'll make sidesteps and missteps, but your principles will manifest themselves through action, and you'll slowly move towards your ever-evolving goal.
Photo is from a bridge in Budapest. Budapest is an awesome place, by the way. There's so much to do (baths, a great tea house, see beautiful things, museums, etc), the people are very warm and welcoming, and it's pretty inexpensive. I'll definitely be back.
I'll be in Amsterdam tomorrow, and then Tokyo for a while after that. If anyone wants to set up a meetup in either (probably Tokyo), I'd be down.
Tynan! I've been reading your blog for many years, I really like your style and methods of thought. I'm extremely interested in this post, but I find myself confused. You say:
"The first principle I use to decide what to do next is to think far forward in the future. What will I wish I had done if I choose something else?"
"The first step gets rid of things I shouldn't do"
Are you looking at an option and saying "what will I regret not doing if I do this"? When I read the first part, it sounds like an additive step like you are adding possible alternatives to a list of ideas, but when I read the second part it sounds like a subtractive process where you are disqualifying options based on expected regrets. I would really apprecaite any clarification you can give me on this. Thank you so much!
I laughed out loud a few times reading this. I love how candid you were.
I think this is great advice. So often we just need a guideline or process to go through. It's not second nature for a lot of people to have an intentional way of doing things.
Refreshing and actionable. Thanks for sharing.
Tynan, You have a lot of freedom to make decisions on what to do. You don't have any enmeshment issues with family, wife, kids, job/career, etc. On one hand that seems like a dream life for those of us working everyday to make ends meet. Although, it appears to me that most people would fall right back into the same lifestyle if they had the freedom. We would unconsciously go back into the same routine.
I see these guys at work counting the days until retirement. It's all they talk about. Then, when they retire, they come back and work part time at the job they complained about for 30 years.
Another strategy I can add, is to evaluate your next move by what would make a good story. And if you see the image of yourself fitting into that story. It's sort of like writing a piece of your biography and then going out living it. For big decisions, this type of separation from yourself can help remove anxiety. You feel less burdened by your ego since you're looking at your life from an outside perspective.
I'm a new subscriber here. I was introduced to your blog through the post about living in a RV.
I'm heading to Tokyo for a few days this Wednesday by way of Saigon. I'd love to organize or be part of meetup. What's the best way to start this?
Most of what we do is subconscious, driven by our habits. The rest is conscious, primarily driven by our principles. In addition to dictating our conscious actions, principles also guide which habits we decide to create.
If we want to improve ourselves and become more effective, our habits and principles are the places we can get the most leverage. A good habit like eating healthy can affect nearly every aspect of our lives, just as a principle like always telling the truth can improve our relationships and lower our mental load.
Just as I don't think there's a universal set of habits that's right for everyone, I don't think there is a set of principles that's right for everyone. Even so, it's always interesting to hear what others' principles and habits are, to use as inspiration for creating our own.
I follow my principles very closely, but not completely. Sometimes a situation calls for deviation, and other times I simply fail to stick to my principles. The former is okay, but the latter is something I try to minimize. With that in mind, here are four of my own.
Sometimes, eventually, a decision must be made - Fr. Anthony Odiong, one of the wisest people I've ever met
I've heard this from several people now, and it makes sense: Tough decisions don't matter, since the reason why they're tough is presumably because the risk/reward for all of the options is nearly equal and thus neither is clearly better. But since they're nearly equal, why not just pick one?
Obviously this isn't prudent in every case, but spending a lot of time deliberating certainly can't be the best option.
On the other hand, due to circumstances, sometimes it does pay to take more time for reasons having nothing to do with the decision itself. I'll use an example: social networks. While obviously there are many reasons why Facebook took off whereas Myspace et all didn't, being first certainly didn't help Myspace. In fact, I remember most of my friends switching to Facebook because it was "a better social network than Myspace".
Think about that. If Myspace and Xanga hadn't been around, the concept of 'social network' wouldn't have existed. Then there would be nothing to compare it to. Now if Facebook had come around a couple years later, there might've been an entirely different giant in that niche. They launched at an optimal time.